It was cold.
The sort of damp cold you only get in the American South – the sort that penetrates your defenses and goes down deep into your joints, and hurts.
The small crowd was a ragtag bunch – men who had no homes to go to, social workers, shelter employees, pastors and church volunteers, and some people who had lost people they loved that year. And most of us were in more than one category.
And we held candles, and we stood in silence as someone called off a list of names – names of people we all knew, and missed, and loved.
It was the annual memorial I went to every winter solstice when I lived in NC, a night where we honored the memories of those who had died while experiencing homelessness; done each year on the longest night, a night when one who was sleeping outside had to endure the most darkness, and had to wait the longest before the hope and safety that comes with the dawn.
For most of my career, winter meant death. Every year, I would bury people I knew and cared about who had died outside, alone, in the cold. But now I do different work, and while it doesn’t stop, it does slow up in the dead of winter, and there isn’t the frantic rush, the life and death struggle to get the blankets in time, the urgency to have hot coffee when you open the doors, the critical work of begging for dollars to buy hand warmers and sleeping bags to keep people alive.
So now, the days are short and the nights are cold and I sometimes feel stressed because my body knows I should be busy, my adrenaline surges because of the weather reports, my nervous system is geared up. Cold weather and short days are a legit anxiety trigger for me.
And then last year I spent the whole winter in a deep depression. And as I have come, slowly, out of it, I am trying to reboot myself, to feel things but also to look at what lies beneath he feelings, and to learn how to embrace the seasonality of it all.
This year I have sort of looked forward to winter, and have, more than any other year, tried to build a plan for it. I have a workshop now, a place I can go and do creative things in comfort, even when it is dark and damp outside. And my garden and yard got away from me this past year because of the depression, and so I look forward to the weeds dying and giving me a fresh start in a few months. And having a strong routine in place and a gym membership, where I can move my body independent of the weather has been crucial, too.
But mostly, I’m trying to live into this time of darkness being not a symbol of death but a symbol of dormancy, a time to rest and build up our inner resources, to embrace and own the hard work of survival we did this year, and to dream of the longer, brighter days to come.
Happy solstice, friends. It only gets brighter from here.